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Shiloh and the Western Campaign of 1862 by…

Shiloh and the Western Campaign of 1862

by Edward Cunningham

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183597,031 (3.88)14



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Overall, I'm disappointed by this book. Mr. Cunningham gives a fairly good, objective description of how the battle of Shiloh evolved, and then of the battle itself, but I felt I was watching most of the action from a very wide angle lens, which is fine, except that Mr. Cunningham doesn't zoom in enough, so even though from time to time, he focuses up close - he quotes letters and diaries - most close up shots of enlisted men and officers are one shots, I never see these men again, and so I didn't feel sustained emotion for them.

Also, Mr. Cunningham tells us very little about the decision making of the top generals. Grant, for the most part, is nonexistent during most of the action. Yes, he probably was caught off-guard, Mr. Cunningham concludes, but what, if anything, did Grant then do to keep his army from being routed? In the end, did Grant, in spite of committing an early blunder, save the day for the Union, or did he just get lucky when reinforcement arrived in the nick of time? Mr. Cunningham doesn't offer any insight that will help us answer these questions.

For me, the best history is not just about wide screen events, but also about the thoughts, personalities and choices of the people who lived and shaped events, and, perhaps even more important, how personalities change events, and how events change personalities. I guess both forces, like opposing armies, meet somewhere. The best historians argue exactly where. While Mr. Cunningham doesn't, he nevertheless paints a broad and much needed picture of the battle that changed the course of the Civil War.

So though his picture is not a full one, Shiloh And The Western Campaign is an important work for military buffs. I wouldn't, however, recommend it to a casual reader.

Note: The e-version I downloaded was full of formatting mistakes. This made it hard for me to enjoy the book. ( )
  Randyflycaster | Aug 10, 2011 |
This book is an excellent example of battle history at its finest. It was originally written by Mr. Cunningham as his dissertation. After his death it was edited by two other historians for publication. The editors made very few changes which are clearly noted in the book.
The first 100 pages of the book provide a description of the battles of Forts Henry and Donelson to put this battle into context. Then the author describes the actions that bring the armies together at Pittsburgh landing.
The heart of the book is a detailed narrative of the battle of Shiloh. Shiloh was significant as the first big battle of the Civil War. The casualties at Shiloh equaled all of the battles that had preceded it. The Confederates and the Federals each began the battle with approximately 40,000 soldiers of all arms. The two day battle was essentially two separate battles. The first day the Confederates surprised the Federals. The constant attacks of the Confederates had the Federals pushed almost into the Tennessee River by the end of the day. The second day the Federals got 25,000 reinforcements and drove the Confederates from the battlefield. At the end of the battle the casualties were about even but the Federals held the battlefield and the Confederates retreated to Corinth.
The author's interweaving of numerous primary sources combines to give the reader a "you are there" feeling. The author describes the movements of the major units involved accompanied by thirty maps that follow the action hour by hour. The action on the battlefield is also described in detail with conversations and numerous descriptions of the injuries and deaths of individual soldiers, from privates to generals. The generals and major officers are introduced and described and the descriptions of their actions and conversations during the battle paint a picture of their character.
After reading the book I can understand why the editors wanted to see it published. It is clear that the author did exhaustive research of all available primary sources before he began writing. The book is straight narrative history, the facts and just the facts, a description of the separate incidents that together make up the historical record. It is easy to see why the editors felt it was important to see this book published after the death of the author. ( )
1 vote wildbill | Mar 28, 2009 |
This isn't a book for the casual reader in the American Civil War. It's actually the publication of a 1960s era doctoral dissertation by Cunningham that has been used extensively, before publication, by the Shiloh National Park as a reference document. It was published formally in 2007.

While other battles had been fought, the major one being First Bull Run, the battle at Shiloh, Missisippi, was the first one with major casualties--something like 22,000 dead,wounded and missing for both sides. This shocked both the Confederacy and the Union--nothing like it had been seen before. Actually, As Sherman remarked, such losses in 1864 would be the result of a minor skirmish before breakfast. But Shiloh was the first.

It was an extremely important battle, in that the loss of Shiloh and later Corinth caused the final collapse of the Confederate line of defence in Tennessee and Mississppi. It was also a very controversial battle, with both Grant and Beauregard, the Confederate commander after Albert Sydney Johnston was killed, coming under fire for their performances on the field.

While there have been quite a few books and articles written about the Battle of Shiloh Cunninghams’ dissertation has been considered to be the first modern study--even though written in 1960--of the battle, and one in which Cunningham did not take for granted assumptions and stories about troop numbers, positions, artillery strength, and other aspects of the battle that had passed unsubstantiated to that time.

Its text is quite good; the co-editors of the book, Joiner and Smith, have carefully corrected mistakes that have come to light in the last 45 years or so,and have scrupulously noted any such corrections or deviations from the original text through very fine footnotes. The Appendices contain the Order of Battle for both armies, a summary of casualties by brigade, and a modern photographic Tour of the Shiloh National Park. There are excellent photographs of both Union and Confederate officers.

All this is commendable, but the book really falls down inexcusably in the maps, which are frustrating and inadequate. It appears that Cunningham’s original document did not contain any maps, because all the cartography in the book is credited to Joiner, one of the co-editors. while just about every book on Ciil War battles leaves the reader complaining that the maps are inadequate, this is particularly true in this book because trying to follow Cunningham’s description of the action in the text by division, brigade, and regiment is not easy at all; Cunningham did not really use modern ways of describing the action of organizations in his text, not surprising in the 1960s.

However, the confusion would have been easily lifted by good, modern maps. But the maps, are a disgrace. By 2007, there was a certain standard way to depict units in battle. Joiner didn't use these cartographical techniques for the entire first day of the battle. From map to map, the identification of the units involved in the action vary--sometimes by division, sometimes by brigade sometimes by regiment. Unfortunately, these designations do NOT correspond well at all with the text; the reader really has to have to have the Order of Battle printed out and handy to try to understand how the text regiments, brigades and divisions correspond to the unit designations on the maps. This is inexcusable when for decades there has been a standard method for clearly indicating such on military maps of the Civl War.

The best study of the Battle of Shiloh Cunningham’s document may be but the editors have done both Cunningham and the battle itself a great disservice with such poor maps. A reader seeking a good grasp of the battle would be far better of reading the section in Shelby Foote's first volume of his three-volume narrative history, or his novel,Shiloh ( )
  Joycepa | Jan 20, 2009 |
A 1966 doctoral thesis which remained unpublished until now, Shiloh is a solid battle history which reflects the writing of that era. Decent maps and good orders of battle are complimented by an updated bibliography. Clear and concise but has been overtaken in the intervening years by from Wiley Sword and Larry Daniel. ( )
  Ammianus | Oct 18, 2007 |
Having not read another book on the Battle of Shiloh, I can't comment on whether this work is better or more important than previous work on the subject.
I am very surprised that only four books have been written before. The fact that this is a previously unpublished dissertation which experts adjudge to be the most important and complete work on the battle surprised me even more.
The editors of the book, Gary Joiner and Timothy Smith, have made a few changes to the original text, and are very careful to explain every significant change they have made.
The maps (by Gary Joiner) are quite good, although they do give a strong impression of being made with computer software not completely familiar to the user. I would have liked more detail on the units involved though. I would say that, while not quite up to the standard I normally expect from Savas Beatie, they're still superior to the maps you usually find.
Cunningham begins by giving us some in-depth background to the campaign, not a background to the war, but serious arguments as to why both sides were eager to control the Mississipi and its tributaries, the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers.
Coming up to the battle, attention is given to the intentions and concerns (or lack of concern) of the generals. Here where so many authors might have planted a flagpole on the pro/con-Grant argument, Cunningham allows the participants actions and words to speak for themselves.
So too, serious amounts of ink are spilled in discussing the respective experience of both armies and their generals.
When we get to the battle itself, several things become clear; Cunningham has walked the ground, and has poured through the primary sources.
He is very careful in analysing exactly what (insofar as is possible in this chaotic battle) occured in all sections of the battlefield.
While other historians have apparently spent a lot of time on one particular facet of the battle, Cunningham applies an even hand, and it is obvious, though never explicit, that he thinks the chaos of the battle is its most significant aspect.
He finished with a careful, though short, appraisal of the Corinth operation which followed.
I would have hoped for more explicit summation of why the battle went the way it did, and some weighing of generals' performance on each side. That said, I would recommend this book easily. ( )
1 vote Donogh | Sep 25, 2007 |
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Table of Contents:

Along the rivers --Lincoln takes a hand --Breaking the river barriers --General Halleck intervenes --Armies gather --March to Shiloh --Surprise --Around Shiloh church --Battle spreads --Crossroads --Hornet's nest --Retreat --Last stand --Buell, Grant, and Beauregard --Victory? --Corinth --Appendix 1: Organization of the confederate army --Appendix 2: Organization of the union army --Casualties at the Battle of Shiloh --Appendix 4: Photo tour of Shiloh --Bibliography --Index.
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